Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Failure to Yield

While technology is often promoted as the key to increased production, a recent report highlights the risk in relying upon genetic modification as the technological enhancement that will solve global food needs.

The Union of Concerned Scientists recently released a report, Failure to Yield on the use of genetically engineered crops as a means for achieving higher production yields. The report concludes that "[d]epsite 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization, genetic engineering has failed to significantly increase U.S. crop yields." Instead, yield increases are largely due to traditional plant breeding and improvements in agricultural practices."

From the USC press release:
The UCS report comes at a time when food price spikes and localized shortages worldwide have prompted calls to boost agricultural productivity, or yield -- the amount of a crop produced per unit of land over a specified amount of time. Biotechnology companies maintain that genetic engineering is essential to meeting this goal. Monsanto, for example, is currently running an advertising campaign warning of an exploding world population and claiming that its “advanced seeds… significantly increase crop yields…” The UCS report debunks that claim, concluding that genetic engineering is unlikely to play a significant role in increasing food production in the foreseeable future.
The report recommends that the U.S. Department of Agriculture, state agricultural agencies, and universities increase research and development for proven approaches to boost crop yields. Those approaches should include modern conventional plant breeding methods, sustainable and organic farming, and other sophisticated farming practices that do not require farmers to pay significant upfront costs. The report also recommends that U.S. food aid organizations make these more promising and affordable alternatives available to farmers in developing countries.

“If we are going to make headway in combating hunger due to overpopulation and climate change, we will need to increase crop yields,” said Gurian-Sherman. “Traditional breeding outperforms genetic engineering hands down.”


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